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Researchers: Hackers develop highly customizable cyberweapon aimed at electric grids

Hackers, believed to be affiliated with Russia, have developed a highly customizable cyberweapon capable of taking down electric grids, according to researchers in a pair of countries and multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

Researchers say the malware, dubbed CrashOverride or Industroyer, is the first ever designed to attack electric grids, specifically. It has no capabilities geared toward espionage, U.S.-based security firm Dragos Inc. said in a report issued Monday.

CrashOverride in its current form can be easily re-purposed for use in Europe and parts of the Middle East and Asia, according to Dragos. It has already been used once before – in December, when it was used to briefly shut down one-fifth of the electric grid in Kiev, Ukraine, according to The Washington Post. It’s not clear who was behind that attack, although Ukrainian officials blamed Russia, Reuters reported. Officials in Moscow have denied any involvement. 

“With a small amount of tailoring … (CrashOverride) would also be effective in the North American grid,” according to Dragos.

Both Dragos and Slovakian anti-virus firm ESET have issued alerts to governments and infrastructure operators in an effort to prepare them for the possible threat CrashOverride poses, according to Reuters.

"The malware is really easy to re-purpose and use against other targets. That is definitely alarming," ESET malware researcher Robert Lipovsky told Reuters. "This could cause wide-scale damage to infrastructure systems that are vital."

Dragos founder Robert M. Lee told the wire service that while CrashOverride can cause portions of a nation’s electric grid to go down for several days, it is not currently powerful enough to bring down the entirety of a country’s grid.

Still, Sergio Caltagirone, director of threat intelligence for Dragos, described the cyberweapon as “a game charger” in an interview with The Post.

“It’s the culmination of over a decade of theory and attack scenarios,” Caltagirone said.

CrashOverride is just the second malware discovered that was created with the intent to disrupt physical systems, Wired reported. The first known malware created with such a purpose was the 2010 Stuxnet virus, used by the U.S. and Israel to attack Iran’s nuclear program.

“The potential impact here is huge,” Lipovsky told Wired. “If this is not a wakeup call, I don’t know what could be.”

FIRST LOOK: Tesla's solar roofs are here

Tesla is officially taking orders for its solar glass roof, which is said to be cheaper than a regular roof with an "infinity warranty."

>> Read more trending news

Elon Musk tweeted on Wednesday that the solar roof can be ordered in "almost any country." The roofs will be deployed this year in the U.S. and overseas in 2018. 

The roofs will come in textured, smooth, Tuscan and slate. 

The roofs are made with tempered glass and are more than three times stronger than standard roofing tiles, according to Tesla's website.

Learn more here.

Amazon Echo Show: 5 things to know about the 'stupendously powerful' device

Amazon officially unveiled the Amazon Echo Show, its first smart speaker with a built-in touchscreen, Tuesday.

Here are five things to know about the new device:

>> Creepy or useful? Amazon’s new Echo Look selfie camera wants to help you get dressed

Tech specs 
  • 7-inch display
  • Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Dual 2-inch stereo speakers powered by Dolby
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera

>> Read more trending news

Features
  • Built-in camera
  • Voice-assistance from Alexa; includes at least 12,000 skills or tasks
  • Bluetooth
  • Touchscreen display offers more on-screen information (step-by-step recipe instructions, 10-day weather reports) and can be used to play videos.
  • Music display features: Connects to Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and offers real-time song lyrics, custom stations, curated playlists, album art
  • Organization features: Ask Alexa to start timers, manage calendars, create to-do lists and sync all the information with the Alexa app.
  • Drop In feature: Free voice-call feature (similar to Apple’s FaceTime) for those with the Alexa app, Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show to message or call each other.
  • Compatible with smart home devices such as cameras, lights, fans, garages, sprinklers and more, so you can potentially ask Alexa to turn off the lights without getting off the couch

>> On AJC.com: Someone asked Amazon’s Alexa about the CIA and the answers are hilarious

What are critics saying?

Wired Magazine called the device and its abilities “stupendously powerful” and lauded the touchscreen feature that now complements Alexa’s voice control. 

“A screen in the Echo universe means there’s almost nothing you and Alexa can’t do,” Wired’s David Pierce wrote.

But The Verge noted some of the device’s limitations, including a “slightly unsettling” feature in Drop In, the voice-call feature. Drop In allows users to white-list individual contacts who will be able to pop up and start a video chat on your Echo Show unannounced.

“I personally cannot imagine ever letting my friends have this power, but maybe that’s just me.” tech critic The Verge’s Chaim Gartenberg said.

Other limitations include Amazon’s single-user system, which would give anyone in the house access to things like to-do lists and would set off all your devices if someone calls you via Drop In.

In addition, because the device is built to run Echo skills and not apps, users won’t be able to run Amazon’s own Fire OS apps, or anything from the Google Play Store, Gartenberg said.

>> On AJC.com: 7 hidden perks of Amazon Prime you probably never knew about

How to buy

The Amazon Echo Show is currently available to pre-order on Amazon for $229.99 in black or white. The device will be released June 28. 

Amazon is also offering a buy two, save $100 deal with promo code SHOW2PACK.

How to use

Plug the Echo Show into a power outlet, connect to the internet and ask Alexa.

More at Amazon.com.

FaceApp transforms selfies via neural network

For better or for worse, a lot of us have gotten used to selfie face filters in apps such as Snapchat and Facebook Messenger that can add silly extremes to our photos and videos, such as sticking a unicorn horn on our head or turning us into superheroes. But FaceApp, an increasingly popular app that debuted in February for iOS and Android, is different; depending on the photo, it can convincingly and quickly show what a person might look like years from now, as a child or even as the opposite gender.

>> Read more trending news

Leaving aside all questions about gender politics and, for the age filter, whether it’s actually a good idea to take a peek into the future that may be too accurate, the technology sounds interesting. As with the Prisma app, it apparently uses an online network to quickly apply artificial intelligence to a photo filter.

The app has already gotten some criticism for how it handles darker faces and there are concerns that its ability to turn frowns into smiles make it a natural for spreading fake, out-of-context photos. But its eerily uncanny technology means it’s not likely to go away anytime soon. Here are some examples:

Here's how to watch NASA's first live 360-degree video of a rocket launch

NASA and United Launch Alliance will broadcast the first 360-degree view of a rocket launch live Tuesday as a cargo payload heads to the International Space Station.

>> Read more trending news

The launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is scheduled for 11:11 a.m. EDT with a 30-minute window. The broadcast begins at 11 a.m. EDT.

To see the launch live, go to NASA’s YouTube channel and use your mouse to manipulate the view.

>> Click here to watch the livestream on YouTube

“While virtual reality and 360 technology have been increasing in popularity, live 360 technology is a brand-new capability that has recently emerged,” NASA said in a statement. “Recognizing the exciting possibilities opened by applying this new technology to spaceflight, NASA, ULA and Orbital ATK seized this opportunity to virtually place the public at the base of the rocket during launch.”

Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft will be loaded with 7,600 pounds of research, supplies and hardware for the space station. It will launch on ULA’s Atlas V rocket.

Apple on track to test self-driving cars in California

Apple is on track to begin testing self-driving cars in California. 

The tech giant was added to a long list of companies on the California Department of Motor Vehicles website that hold permits for the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program.

>> Read more trending news

Apple, traditionally highly secretive about its technology, joins companies like Google, Tesla, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and others, that are testing autonomous driving technology.

Apple’s permit allows it to test three 2015 Lexus SUVs vehicles retrofitted with self-driving technology, and covers six human operators, who must be in the SUV during testing, according to Fox Business.

The company has been highly secretive about its autonomous driving program, called Project Titan, and is not commenting on the new permit.

23andme cleared by FDA to offer genetic health risk tests

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized 23andme, a personal genomics company, to offer disease-risk predicting tests directly to consumers without a prescription.

The approval comes after a lengthy battle that began in 2013 when the FDA forced 23andme to remove all 254 of its genetic health risk tests from the market, according to Forbes. 23andme uses a consumer's saliva sample to run genetic tests. 

>> Read more trending news

Since that 2013 ruling, genetic testing results have appeared in respected medical journals, and the concept of genomic risk is more accepted by the scientific community. Critics caution that consumers may take the results too literally, instead of as one piece of their health puzzle, and undergo unnecessary tests or procedures. 

The new FDA ruling allows 23andme to provide 10 genetic health risk tests for conditions ranging from late-onset Alzheimer's disease to celiac disease. The ruling also grants an exemption which could approve further genetic risk tests by 23andme more quickly.

“The FDA has embraced innovation and has empowered people by authorizing direct access to this information,” said 23andMe co-founder and CEO Anne Wojcicki in a company press release.

The new tests will begin to roll out this month and will be available to new customers immediately. Current customers will be notified of test availability. 

Scientists teleport lemonade via the internet

Lemonade stands may go virtual in the future, if scientists in Singapore can further refine their tasty experiment.

Scientists at Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Center captured the taste and color of lemonade and transmitted it to a remote tumbler filled with water via the internet, according to the CNET report. 

>> Read more trending news

The "virtual lemonade" experiment uses electrical currents to simulate the lemonade flavor, but the low voltage doesn't cause any discomfort. Scientists were able to change the color and the taste profile, from mild to sour, in the tumbler equipped with metal strips. 

While the concept of digital tastes isn't new, scientists hope this experiment will lead to further iterations that will have real-world usages. For example, scientists hope to create a spoon that carries a salty profile so that hospital patients who need to be on a low-salt diet could virtually flavor their food to their liking.

Elon Musk launches effort to interface human brain and computers

 

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is the man behind the car company Tesla, the inventor of PayPal and the genius behind Space X, Hyperloop and even more.

Now the billionaire inventor has launched a company called Neuralink to figure out how to connect the brain and computers, the Wall Street Journal reported.

>> Read more trending news

The idea is to create tiny devices, like electrodes, that can be implanted in the brain to eventually merge the brain with a computer to help humans stay ahead of artificial intelligence.

The devices might help improve memory or allow for direct interfacing with computers, The Verge reported.

The concept is called “neural lace,” and Musk discussed it at Recode’s Code Conference last year.

While the company has been described as being in its embryonic stage, Musk promised to release more information about it next week.

“Long Neuralink piece coming out on @waitbutwhy in about a week. Difficult to dedicate the time, but existential risk is too high not to,” he said on Twitter.

WATCH: Jeff Bezos pilots giant ‘Avatar’-style robot at private tech conference

The merging of reality and science fiction was on display as Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, showed off his robotic driving skills at the retailer’s private annual tech conference in Palm Springs, California.

Bezos tweeted a picture of himself at the Machine-Learning Automation, Robotics & Space Exploration (MARS) conference, piloting a giant, 13-foot tall, 1.5 ton robot. 

>> Read more trending news

The robot looks like a real-life version of the bipedal machine piloted by “Avatar” villain Col. Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, in James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi classic.

It’s also similar in some ways to the robotic exoskeleton suit that actress Sigourney Weaver wore to defeat the alien in another Cameron sci-fi classic, “Aliens.” 

“Why do I feel so much like Sigourney Weaver?” Bezos asked while he was operating the robot?

Then on Monday he tweeted, “I just got to pilot an awesome (and huge) robot thanks to Hankook Mirae Technology.”

South Korea-based Hankook Mirae built the machine, the Method-2, according to The Verge, and unveiled it in 2016.

The conference also showcases the latest advances and prototypes in home automation, machine learning and space exploration.

 

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